Spider-Man no more?

Amazing Spider-Man #3 boasts a cover straight out of the Silver Age. Surely this image of Peter Parker clashing with Spider-Man can’t be taken literally, right? Maybe it’s a metaphor for the hero’s internal struggle? Or a sign that we’re due for another Clone Saga rehash? But nope, what you see on the cover is pretty much exactly what you get inside. This relaunched series’ knack for going over-the-top and delivering the unexpected remains it’s biggest selling point.

Following a laboratory mishap in issue #2, Peter and Spider-Man are now two completely separate individuals. As writer Nick Spencer and artist Ryan Ottley establish, this isn’t necessarily the end of the world for our hero. After trying and failing for so many years to establish a stable, healthy personal life, Peter practically leaps at the chance to embrace normality while someone else handles the responsibilities of being Spider-Man. But as you’d expect, there are serious consequences to this anti-Freaky Friday situation.

This oddball premise works on multiple levels. It certainly isn’t lacking in fun factor. But it also allows Spencer to examine familiar themes of power and responsibility in a new light. Does Peter still have great responsibility when he no longer possesses great power? Is Spider-Man still the best hero he can be when he no longer has his Parker lifestyle keeping him humble?

Spencer’s writing displays a satisfying amount of depth in other areas, as well. There’s a slight meta quality to Peter’s narration in this issue. Nothing that gets in the way of the story, but enough to make it clear that Spencer is essentially pitching readers on his plans for the series. The phrase “Back to Basics” isn’t just a story title, but a larger mission statement. Spencer also succeeds in using Peter’s supporting cast to full effect. Dr. Connors is a great addition to the mix in his new role as half-antagonist/half-ally. And while some part of me me can’t help but be wary of the resurgent Peter/MJ romance, the scenes of the two bonding with Randy Robertson and another surprise returning character add another dose of charm to the series.

Ottley’s dynamic pencils, Cliff Rathburn’s clean inks and Laura Martin’s vivid colors help distill all these elements into an attractive package. Ottley shows a true versatility in this issue. He renders epic, widescreen action as Spidey clashes with one of his largest foes ever. But the scenes of playful character banter are just as visually dynamic. Ottley and his collaborators thrive during one sequence where Peter and Spider-Man take stock of each other for the first time. The physical comedy at work in this scene enhances its impact tremendously.

The Verdict

Amazing Spider-Man is clearly one of Marvel’s biggest successes in the Fresh Start initiative. It’s not so much that the new series is better than its predecessor, but that it achieves a similar level of quality while also striving to be a very different book. This issue makes the most of its oddball premise and proves once more what a major get Ryan Ottley was for Marvel.

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